Sunday, June 12, 2005

The 8am to 6pm school day

Brit Education Secretary Ruth Kelly has raised the idea of matching kids' school hours with adults' work hours. All kids under 14 would be under adult supervision from dawn til dusk, leaving parents secure in the knowledge that their kids aren't glued to the Box or on drugs after school, while they work to feed the government them.

Teachers' Unions are screaming blue murder, saying that resources are already stretched thin. Kelly has countered that teachers will not be compelled to do the work, and that the new services can be contracted out to private and voluntary groups.

This is a great idea for all sorts of reasons, and one that would do wonders for Kiwi Education.

I have always been perplexed by the expectation for parents to slave their arses away at dead-end full-time jobs for at least 40 hours a week, 49 weeks a year and somehow keep the kids occupied in the gaps between school and work hours, as well as school holidays. Not all of us can get picked up in Audis outside the school gates by Trophy Wives and Soccer Moms.

With the limits of knowledge stretching further into the universe, and the complexities of human existence turning ever fractal with each passing generation, it seems sensible to set aside sufficient time to pass on enough skills for children to cope with it all. It is patently obvious that at present we are not doing so.

Mornings are generally a time when kids are at their most attentive and least restless. The first half of the school day could be dedicated to all the tedious necessities of education such as reading, writing and arithmetic. For most teachers, this would be their sum total workload. Optional classes in the afternoon could specialise in smaller classes targeted at the needy and the worthy.

The second half could feature
specialist teaching, extra-curricular activities, field trips, sport, music, art, community help and, for senior students, Civics. These need not be doled out specifically to the private sector. Sports clubs and museums, for example, could provide specialist knowledge and mentoring without the need for corporate buy-ins.

The benefits for the kids is manifold. Classes will not just be a dirge of calculus and Shakespeare. Afternoon options give them something to look forward to, as well as provide opportunities to learn what they enjoy doing and (arguably more important) what they are good at. Hell, it would be a good way to make friends and mingle outside their home class tribe.